By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, January 5, 2019: The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) have spurred sporadic protest across the country. Public protests are very common in India. But the moot question is who are behind the agitation? A few opposition political parties, motivated activists and some student leaders are in the forefront of the agitation and protest against the CAA without delving deep into the essence of the Indian Citizenship Act.

A clearly motivated propaganda is made amongst Muslims that Muslims living in India would be deported from this country going by the Citizenship Amendment Act. This is absolutely false and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister, Amit Shah have categorically said that interests of Muslims now living in India would be protected.

The Act stipulates that citizens of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who do not belong to Muslim religion and who claim that they have been persecuted on religious grounds and want asylum in India to save themselves from persecution, would be given Indian citizenship. Muslims have not been covered under this Act, as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have officially declared Islam as their national religion and hence are not secular countries. Being Islamic countries, the respective governments are expected not to persecute Muslims on religious grounds and therefore, the Act has excluded Muslims from eligibility for citizenship in India.

At the same time it is a fact that the CAA doesn’t offer this benefit to persecuted Ahmadiyyas or Shias from these countries. It is discriminatory towards persecuted non-Indians who are Muslims. But what has that got to do with Indian Muslims? Amit Shah has made it clear time and again that the CAA doesn’t even refer to Muslims. So why is it being said that this law targets Indian Muslims?

One should not forget that as per the existing law this country, anyone can apply for citizenship in India, whatever may be the religion that they belong to. How can then one say that Muslims are victimized by the Modi government which apparently is pursuing its hidden agenda of Hindu nationalism.

Critics point out that the CAA is closely related to a key project of the BJP government i.e the NRC which would culminate in declaring India as a natural home of Hindus. They also allege that the NRC aims to identify genuine Indian citizens through a process that could cast doubts on the citizenship of millions of Indians. They also attribute the Home Minister’s repeated assertion in Parliament that the Bill is part of the “unfinished business of Partition” unequivocally underlining this agenda.

The CAA is a safety net that will ensure, and insure, the citizenship of all Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Hindus classed as “illegal migrants” by the Assam NRC, but also others all over India who might be categorised as “foreigners” when the NRC is implemented. The NRC’s objective is to divide the people domiciled in India into two categories: citizens and “illegal migrants”. The CAA’s objective is to pre-emptively rescue, prior to the NRC exercise, the citizenship of all Indians except those whose religion finds no mention in the CAA.

On hearing the petitions challenging the CAA, the Supreme Court declined to stay the contentious law but asked the Centre to file its reply against the petitions that say it violates the Constitution. The petitioners say the Bill discriminates against Muslims and violates the right to equality enshrined in the Constitution.

The critics say that the CAA seeks to legally establish Muslims as second-class citizens of India by providing preferential treatment to other groups. This violates the Constitution’s Article 14, the fundamental right to equality to all persons. This basic structure of the Constitution cannot be reshaped by any Parliament. But the Modi government maintains that it does not discriminate or violate the right to equality.

The revocation of Article 370, criminalization of triple talaq and the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute did not cause much consternation among the minority Muslims. But that the CAA-NRC has evoked a much sharper reaction among Muslims due to the religious criterion for citizenship, they reiterate.

Muslims – who are apparently most threatened by this move, are in the forefront of the widespread protests against the redefinition of ‘citizenship’. The protests initiated by students of JMI and Aligarh Muslim University have hence spread to other cities and growing into a much wider opposition. Political parties such as the Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) organised marches and some State governments are now pushing back against the Centre.

These spontaneous agitations are the largest and most widespread in decades and certainly the biggest since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. But these protests hardly had a tangible impact on the outcome so far. Nevertheless, a protracted counter-mobilisation cutting across religious lines has begun to challenge the BJP’s Hindutva agenda.

The President already has given his assent to the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, on December 12. However, the home ministry has not yet notified the rules to operationalise the law since the matter is sub judice before the Supreme Court.

The petitions against the Act are listed for hearing in the Apex Court on January 22. Though the Supreme Court did not clamp a stay on CAA, the NDA government is expected to wait till January 22 for its final move on notification of authority, about who all can apply for citizenship, and state minimum requirements and cut-off date.

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